Space in Africa, in collaboration with the African Union Commission and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Côte d’Ivoire, is convening the 2023 NewSpace Africa Conference from 25-28 April 2023 at Sofitel Abidjan Hotel Ivoire, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The much anticipated high-level gathering of space actors on the continent records a massive turnout from 190 organisations, including representatives from ministries, space agencies, academia, the commercial sector and international organisations, quadrupling the turnout recorded during the maiden edition, which hosted 100 attendees.
The event, themed “space for Africa’s socioeconomic transformation“, will showcase diverse sessions throughout the four days, including 14 keynote addresses, 21-panel discussions, interactive breakout sessions, B2B matchmaking, B2C matchmaking, exhibitions and unique networking opportunities.
The opening day has set the stage for a truly engaging and exciting atmosphere for developing and sustaining relationships with various African space and satellite industry stakeholders.
Following the conference agenda, the event kickstarted with a keynote address by Mr Hambani Masheleni, the Acting Director of the AUC’s Department of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, providing updates on the African space policy and strategy implementation.
During his presentation, Mr Hambani disclosed that since the AU launched the African Space Policy and Strategy, the framework has guided the development of Africa’s space sector by providing African nations with a coordinated approach to the peaceful exploration and use of outer space for sustainable development.
The Acting Director added that while there is still much work to be done, progress is being made in implementing the African Space Policy and Strategy, and African countries are increasingly recognising the importance of space exploration and technology for sustainable development.
Shortly after his presentation, Dr Tidiane Ouattara, the African Union Commission Space Science Expert, GMES & Africa Programme Coordinator, gave a keynote speech introducing the newly formed African Space Agency (AfSA) structure, extensively discussing the agency’s establishment, mandate, objectives and functions.
Notably, he expressed that upon the agency’s full operationalisation, it will be the focal point of Africa’s collaboration with Europe and other non-African partners. Furthermore, he noted that according to the AfSA’s establishing statute, the African Space Agency Act, one of the agency’s objectives is to strengthen “space missions on the continent to ensure optimal access to space-derived data, information, services, and products.”
Furthermore, Dr Tidiane explained that AfSA would facilitate the advancement of technology in all member states, enabling the transition from a reliance on natural resources to a knowledge-based industry that heavily incorporates digital technologies. Additionally, he added that “the agency will develop a unified intra-African registry with standardised procedures for countries looking to establish space agencies in Africa. This Pan-African guideline would benefit the adoption and regulation of space usage across the continent to ensure inclusivity across all regions. Also, as each African country has unique characteristics within their space industry, the African Space Agency will promote pan-Africanism by bringing together countries with less advanced space programs. This will enable these countries to benefit from the knowledge and experience of more established space programs within the continent.”
Regarding the agency’s funding mechanism, Dr Tidiane revealed that “as an organ of the AU, AfSA’s seed funding for the agency will come from the African Union Commission (AUC). The funding structure will differ from that of the European Space Agency (ESA), where 22 member states contribute funds to support the agency’s programmes and activities, including scientific research, technology development, and space exploration. In contrast, AfSA’s funding structure will rely solely on seed funding from the AUC. The agency will have to rely on this initial funding to establish its programmes and activities and may attract external funding from other sources such as international partners, private sector organisations, and individual donors.”
Overall, Dr Tidiane concluded that AfSA’s funding structure is unique, reflecting the specific needs and challenges of the African space sector. While the agency will rely on seed funding from the AUC, it will need to develop a sustainable funding model to support its long-term objectives and ensure the growth of the African space industry.
During his welcome address, Professor Mohammed Belhocine, AUC Commissioner of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (ESTI), discussed that the AUC is establishing programmes to foster the peaceful use of outer space and space science for Africa’s sustainable development. In addition, he explained that AUC is currently implementing the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security and Africa (GMES & Africa) in more than 40 African states in partnership with more than 150 institutions.
In addition, the commissioner stated that the phase to begin operationalising the African Space Agency is in progress in partnership with the relevant Egyptian authorities. Furthermore, he noted that having signed the host agreement, the AUC will work in tandem with the Egyptian government to provide the necessary framework to ensure the success of the Agency.
Subsequently, Cote d’Ivoire’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of Cote d’Ivoire, Prof. Adama Diawara, delivered a welcome address. During his presentation, the Minister congratulated the organisers for championing space dialogue and an avenue for exchanging ideas. Furthermore, he thanked them for choosing Cote d’Ivoire as the high-level conference destination.
Prof Diawara added that Cote d’Ivoire’s inclusion in implementing the second phase of the GMES and Africa Programme and the ongoing work to create the Ivorian Space Agency faced scepticism initially. “However, to ensure the success of the Agency, it needs to be implemented quickly, and funding needs to be secured.”
While speaking on the importance of the conference to the continental space ecosystem, Prof Diawara said that “building strategic partnerships and engaging in multilateral and bilateral collaborations is crucial for regional and pan-African space development. In addition, we must take advantage of the NewSpace ecosystem to tailor space solutions that meet the specific needs of each African state. Private sector engagement is important for linking academia and the scientific communities, ensuring a continuum of innovation and sustainable development.”
Prof. Adama Diawara concluded by formally declaring the NewSpace conference open.
The keynote speeches were followed by status updates on the space activities of 16 African countries, featuring the heads of space agencies from Angola, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia and Uganda. In addition, the heads of the space agency’s panel, moderated by the Managing Director of Space in Africa, included presentations detailing the space ecosystem in their respective countries.
Status updates on African space agencies’ activities – Cohort 1
The first head of the space agency panel featured Dr Akram A. Alkasih, General Director of the Libyan Center for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences; Prof Dickson Adomako, Director of the Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute (GSSTI); Dr Sherif Sedky, Chief Executive Officer of the Egyptian Space Agency; Col Francis Ngabo, Chief Executive Officer, Rwanda Space Agency; and Dr Zolana Joao, General Manager, Angolan Space Management Office.
Dr Akram A. Alkasih
During his presentation, Dr Akram disclosed that the Libyan space program could be traced to 1985 with the remote sensing programme, the Yamama project. According to him, it set the stage for a national space programme involved in remote sensing, space, seismic science, astronomy research and advisory body at the local, regional and international levels, qualifying it to play a pivotal role in comprehensive development initiatives.
In addition, Dr Akram highlighted some key projects within the institution, including the bid for a space programme in 2010, including the numerous capacity-building programmes designed for the 193 agency staff to ensure a steady supply of human capital to enhance Libya’s socio-economic development.
Prof Dickson Adomako
Prof Dickson noted that Ghana had developed its space policy, with a proposed launch date set for June 2023. According to him, Ghana has been working on passing the Ghana Space Policy, which is aimed at supporting the efforts of the Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute in harnessing space technology for socio-economic development.
Furthermore, he explained that the Ghanaian cabinet had approved the Ghana Space Implementation Plan to enable the full operationalisation of the Ghana Space Agency in 2023. The elevation status of the GSSTI will allow for better enforcement of laws to protect land reserved for earth observatory activities that impact the Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory and the GSSTI. This will ultimately lead to improved Earth observatory activities in Ghana.”
Dr Sherif Sedky
During his address, Dr Sedky revealed the progress of the Egyptian space city, noting that “the progress of Egypt’s space city construction is significant, as nine out of the 23 planned buildings have been completed. These buildings will facilitate various space-related activities, such as hosting a space academy, a research centre, a tourist museum, satellite assembly, integration and testing centre and the headquarters of the African Space Agency.”
According to him, the space city will become fully operational in June 2023, and the satellite AIT centre will be open to other African countries to carry out specified testing involving the integration of various satellite components and subsystems into a single entity that is tested to ensure its proper functioning in space.
Furthermore, Dr Sedky stated that in partnering with the AUC, the phase to begin operationalising the African Space Agency is in progress. Again, having signed the host agreement, the Egyptian government will provide the necessary framework to ensure the success of the Agency.
Finally, he revealed that Egypt’s experimental Earth observation satellite, MisrSat-2, developed jointly by Egyptian and Chinese engineers, is scheduled to be launched later this year. Dr Sedky also said the satellite had been shipped to Egypt’s AIT to conduct the necessary tests before launch.
Colonel Francis Ngabo
Colonel Francis’ presentation revolved around the Rwandan Space Agency, highlighting some of the significant accomplishments of the country in the space domain, such as the launch of Rwanda’s first satellite, the establishment of the Rwandan Space Agency, and the Rwandan geospatial hub.
Col Francis also mentioned that the agency has over 50 partnerships with state and private sector actors globally, including a collaboration with MAXAR to utilise high-resolution EO imageries for geospatial application development, a contract with Atlas Space Operation to leverage a Rwandan teleport, a 9.3-meter antenna in different frequency bands capable of servicing spacecraft on lunar missions and signing the Artemis Accords and developing national space legislation and policy, which will be completed later this year. He further stated that the availability of space technology to everyone has made it possible for countries like Rwanda to use it to their advantage in achieving sustainable development goals.
Dr Zolana Joao
In his presentation, Dr Zolana outlined GGPEN’s focus on human capacity development, highlighting their space strategy, emphasising developing space infrastructure and enhancing Angola’s international positioning. He also spoke about the agency’s collaboration with Russia and other regional and international institutions and their initial setback with AngoSat-1, which catalysed their continued efforts, culminating in the launch and operationalisation of the Angosat-2.
Also, he discussed that the agency, as part of its mission to support sustainable development through space-based technologies, has developed several space-based solutions. One of them is TECH-GEST, a service that uses up-to-date, high-resolution satellite radar images to detect, monitor and alert on the occurrence of possible oil spills across Angola’s offshore rigs. According to him, GGPEN developed this solution to detect and monitor oil spills by leveraging the images captured by optical sensors at different electromagnetic spectrum ranges, including the visible, near-infrared, shortwave, and thermal infrared regions.
Status updates on African space agencies’ activities – Cohort 2
The second head of the space agency panel featured Colonel Major Anis Frikha, Director General of Tunisian Center for Mapping and Remote Sensing (CNCT); Mr Ziyaad Soreefan, Aerospace Engineer, Mauritius Research and Innovation Council; Dr Aboubakar Mambimba Ndjoungui, Deputy Director-General of the Gabonese Agency for Space Studies and Observations (AGEOS); and Dr Halilu Ahmad Shaba, Director General of the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA).
Colonel Major Anis Frikha
Colonel Major Anis discussed CNCT’s mission of utilising space and remote sensing techniques for various socio-economic development purposes. One of the key areas highlighted by Colonel Major Anis is the management of natural resources such as forest and water resources, agriculture, and natural risk reduction.
He said, “Regarding forest resources, CNCT uses remote sensing techniques to monitor and manage forested areas across Tunisia. This involves using satellite imagery to track changes in vegetation cover, identify areas of deforestation, and assess the health of forest ecosystems. The data collected through these techniques are then used to develop management strategies that help to preserve and sustainably manage these important natural resources. Similarly, CNCT uses remote sensing techniques to monitor and manage water resources. This involves using satellite imagery to track changes in surface water levels, identify areas of water stress, and assess the impacts of climate change on water availability. This information is then used to develop strategies for water management and conservation that help to ensure the sustainable use of water resources in Tunisia.”
“In addition to managing natural resources, CNCT is also involved in reducing natural risks. This includes using remote sensing techniques to monitor and manage the impacts of natural disasters such as floods, landslides, and earthquakes. By using satellite imagery to identify areas at risk, CNCT helps to develop strategies for disaster preparedness and response that help to minimise the impacts of natural disasters on communities and infrastructure.”
Mr Ziyaad Soreefan
In his speech, Mr Ziyaad detailed the activities of the Mauritius Research and Innovation Council as the apex body and advisor to the Government of Mauritius on all matters of Science Research and Innovation. He also discussed several flagship projects within the agency, including the launch of Mauritius’ first satellite (MIR-SAT1) and its on-board payload to capture images of Mauritius and NEREUS – a space-based maritime surveillance system for fisheries monitoring and anomaly detection.
Dr Halilu Ahmad Shaba
Dr Halilu Ahmed Shaba summarised NASRDA’s plans to achieve its space mission. He acknowledged that some of the projects that were not accomplished should not be regarded as complete failures, as they have presented opportunities for the agency to learn and improve. Additionally, he highlighted the focus on capacity development in NASA’s space projects.
The Director-General pointed out that capacity development is essential for the agency’s success and Nigeria’s fight against terrorism. He added that the agency has also extended capacity development programs to the military.
Dr Aboubakar Mambimba Ndjoungui
During his presentation, Dr Aboubakar disclosed that as part of AGEOS’ founding principles, the agency’s technical department had developed several technical services targeting specific thematic areas, including forest management, maritime surveillance, urban, climate change, water, coastline monitoring, infrastructure, agriculture, mining, etc.
In addition, Dr Aboubakar highlighted some ongoing space projects within its agency, such as:
- GabonSat 1 project: To provide Gabon with its first satellite as part of the development of Gabon’s space strategy;
- Central Africa Forest Initiative (CAFI) project: Forest monitoring system consolidation and national land allocation plan development;
- Gabon space policy and strategy: Under review with all national stakeholders and support from UNOOSA; and
- National Space Law: Under discussion with the Gabonese National Assembly Law Commission.
Status updates on African space agencies’ activities – Cohort 3
The third head of the space agency panel featured Maram Kaire, Director General of the Senegalese Agency for Space Studies; Mr Humbulani Mudau, Chief Executive Officer of South African National Space Agency; Brigadier Hillary Biwott Kipkosgei, Acting DG of Kenya Space Agency; Mr Fernand Bale, Director, Côte d’Ivoire Geographic and Digital Information Center (CIGN)
The director general discussed Agence Senegalaise d’Etudes Spatiales (ASES) core missions, highlighting its responsibility to develop and implement the country’s space policy by promoting the peaceful use of space technology for the socio-economic development of Senegal and the African continent as a whole.
In addition, Maram disclosed ASES’ five-year plan, which is expected to culminate in building and launching satellites and its corresponding infrastructure to ensure that decision-makers in Senegal have access to actionable data on climate, agriculture, and natural resources, among other things.
Mr Fernand Bale
During his speech, Mr Fernand Bale mentioned that the Côte d’Ivoire Geographic and Digital Information Center (CIGN) operates as a part of the National Office of Technical Studies and Development (BNETD). BNETD is responsible for designing, implementing, and monitoring public projects in various areas such as transport, infrastructure, environment, building, spatial planning, agriculture, GIS, innovation, economy, finance, industrialisation, and training. CIGN serves as the national mapping agency of Côte d’Ivoire and manages the GIS aspects of BNETD.
Furthermore, he discussed some critical projects about the importance of a space outfit in Côte d’Ivoire. Here, Mr Fernand said about the projects involving modernising the geodetic network to update or improve the infrastructure and technology used for geodetic measurements, which are used to determine precise locations and distances on the Earth’s surface. Similarly, he mentioned the forest land use cover map project, which “aims to maintain Côte d’Ivoire as a forested country by halting the current deforestation trend and undertaking initiatives to restore forest cover. However, these efforts must also consider the need to address poverty and food security in the region, requiring a balanced approach that accounts for economic, social, and environmental factors.”
Mr Humbulani Mudau
While speaking on SANSA’s mission, Mr Humbulani said that the agency had made significant strides in developing space-based technologies for socio-economic development. For example, SANSA’s Earth observation satellites have been used to monitor natural resources, track weather patterns, and provide data for disaster management efforts. Similarly, SANSA has also developed several innovative technologies, such as a low-cost ground station for receiving satellite data, that have helped to reduce the cost of accessing space-based data and services in South Africa.
Additionally, Mr Humbulani noted the South African Space Weather Capability, which included a 24/7, fully operational space weather centre to offer space weather forecasting and alerts to Africa, as another essential project that solidifies the agency’s zeal towards achieving socioeconomic transformation in Africa by leveraging space.
Brigadier Hillary Biwott Kipkosgei
In his presentation, Brigadier Hillary explained that the Kenya Space Agency continues to play a critical role in the country’s socio-economic development by providing space-based data and services to various government departments and private sector companies, supporting applications such as disaster management, agriculture, collaborating with universities and research institutions to develop human capital in space-related fields and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers in the country.
Furthermore, the acting DG noted that KSA is working assiduously to develop and maintain an enabling environment for private sector participation in space activities by establishing policies and regulations that provide a clear framework for private sector investment and participation, as well as investing in the necessary infrastructure and promoting education and training in space-related fields. According to him, an example is the agency’s collaboration with SayariLabs (an upstream space company in Kenya) and Endurosat to launch Kenya’s first 3U Earth observation satellite, the Taifa-1, earlier this month.
Status updates on African space agencies’ activities – Cohort 4
The last head of the space agency panel featured Prof Frédéric Ouattara, Former Minister of Higher Education, Burkina Faso & Project Lead, BurkinaSat-1; Dr Doreen Agaba, Technical lead, Department of Aeronautics and Space Science, the Science Technology and Innovation Secretariat, Uganda.; and Dr Lisho C. Mundia, Director of Research and Innovation in the Ministry of Higher Education, Technology and Innovation, Government of the Republic of Namibia.
Prof Frédéric Ouattara
Prof Frédéric discussed how the BurkinaSat-1 plays directly into the country’s needs and plan for its space programme. He said the Burkina Sat 1 project aims to observe land to study degradation and locate water sources. This will enable farmers to adjust their practices to changing climatic conditions and nomadic pastoralists to optimise water points during transhumance. The project consists of two segments: a ground segment, which includes a ground station, and a space segment, which involves building the first 1U cube satellite in the constellation to make the project functional.”
Dr Doreen Agaba
During her presentation, Dr Doreen disclosed that Uganda actively considers the importance of mutual benefits and space collaboration between nations. However, she noted that countries should prioritise building solid relationships based on trust, transparency, and open communication in developing successful partnerships. Additionally, she mentioned that understanding each other’s peculiarities and challenges, values, and goals can help to identify shared interests and areas of potential collaboration.
Dr Doreen reiterated the need to have a clear understanding of each country’s national agenda and priorities so that we can identify partnerships that align with your country’s goals and values.
Dr Lisho C. Mundia
While discussing some of the exciting projects undertaken by the agency, Dr Lisho noted that Namibia is home to the High Energy Stereoscopic System (H.E.S.S) station and that about 100 km west of Windhoek, at 1,800 m altitude, several huge reflecting telescopes near the majestic Gamsberg, looking for cosmic rays since 2002 for scientific purposes.
According to him, researchers utilise the infrastructure to study gamma rays from outer space caused by energy sources as far away as the Milky Way and galaxies many lightyears away. Dark matter and black holes are also part of the research programme of the world’s most extensive reflector telescope system for gamma rays.
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